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COVID-19: Is Nigerian law adequate in facilitating ICT-based tertiary learning?

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Ngozi

Undoubtedly Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19) is the most pressing global problem of all time with reverberations for every industrial sector. With the need to contain the spread of the virus, many countries including Nigeria have implemented measures to reduce any gathering capable of fertilizing its spread. Such measures adopted by the Nigerian government in our educational system includes banning educational gatherings, a sit at home order and, the temporary closing of schools including tertiary institutions. The effect of the mentioned measures is that students of tertiary institutions are currently deprived of their right to education under the traditional method of learning within the confines of the four-corners of a lecture hall. Tertiary institutions in other developing countries who are faced with similar situations have fallen back on the exclusive use of Information Communication Technology (ICT) based tertiary education advance learning with their laws serving as a bedrock.

In a trying period such as this, the question that this write up is seeking to answer is whether our laws are adequate to facilitate the use of ICT based Tertiary Learning.

The establishment and functioning of tertiary education has been made possible by the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and Laws establishing different government owned tertiary institutions. Chapter 2 of the 1999 Constitution provides for the non-justiciable duty of state to guarantee access to education. Section 18(3)(c) of this same chapter provides for the establishment of universities otherwise known as tertiary institutions in Nigeria. The method of establishment is normally by an act of national or state assembly for state and federal government owned tertiary institutions respectively. Regrettably, none of the instruments specifically insists or provide for the platform for lecture delivery and, reception of feedback from students.

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However, some of the laws establishing some federal and, state universities are insinuative of a disposition towards the traditional method of learning. The traditional form of tertiary learning is teaching, learning and assessment within the four-corners of a classroom block. It is typically characterized by a teacher instructing tertiary students, all being present within a designated lecture hall. The latter has been the bane of the learning system for most government owned tertiary institutions save for National Open University of Nigeria.

Section 4(1), paragraph K of the Federal University of Oye Ekiti (Establishment) Act 2015 provides that the function of the University shall be to erect, provide, equip and maintain lecture halls. Some other instruments like Federal University of Abuja (Establishment) Act 1992 and the Federal University of Ndufu-Alike Ikwo (Establishment) Act 2015 use the word ‘facilities’ instead of lecture halls. Thus, it can be inferred that the establishment of lecture halls invariably implies its usage for delivery of tertiary education hence the traditional method of learning. While the law did not expressly make the use of lecture halls mutually exclusive of the use of other platforms, it has impliedly given it the impetus to thrive. Especially when previous incidence has not yet challenged it’s near exclusiveness. It is therefore not surprising that the traditional method of learning within the four walls of a lecture hall is the primary method of learning adopted by the Management and, Senate of Tertiary institutions in Nigeria.

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While the traditional method of using lecture halls has been beneficial, the COVID-19 pandemic has cut short its usefulness. After all, social distancing appears to be the only end to the spread of the deadly virus.

Thus, students of tertiary institutions in Nigeria are currently unable to access tertiary education given the sit at home order and, the closure of schools in addition to the ASUU strike. Notably, Nigeria is not alone in this as over 138 countries have ordered a country-wide closure of their elementary and tertiary institutions of learning in response to COVID-19. The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reports that over 1.3 billion learners around the world have not been able to physically attend schools or institutions of learning as at March 23, 2020. UNESCO’s figures refer to learners enrolled at pre-primary, primary, lower-secondary, and upper-secondary levels of education as well as at tertiary level. However, institutions in countries like Kenya, Liberia, Libya, and China are using ICT based learning to deliver tertiary education, Nigerian public tertiary institutions are currently clinging unto the traditional method of using lecture halls. Thus, students of public tertiary institutions are currently denied access to education even when it is still practicable to advance tertiary learning. If something is not done, the students may lose interest in education and tow towards societal vices as the general saying; “lack of consistency can bring on lack of interest”.

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More than ever, there is a strong imperative for the use of ICT based learning to sustain and maintain the continuity of our tertiary education amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. ICT based learning refers to the use of internet facilities such as ZOOM, WhatsApp, We-chat, E-mail, Skype, Edutech etc to teach, interact, receive feedback and administer assessments. It can also encompass software such as blackboard, learn-app and interactive apps. It enjoys superior benefits over the traditional method of learning in a time like this given that it enables interaction between persons from different parts of the world at different times. Thus, it is a preferred option of tertiary learning in a period where social distancing is the key to survival.

Luckily, while the Nigerian law has appeared to have encouraged the traditional method of learning, some of its provisions are accommodative of ICT based learning. A common thread among the laws establishing tertiary institutions is a provision that their activities must be responsive to the social needs of the place where they are situated. For instance, Section 2(d) of the Federal University of Lafia (Establishment) Act 2015 provides that the University ‘shall tailor its activities towards the social, cultural and economic needs of the people of Nigeria’. The same provision is replicated in the Federal University of Dutsin-Ma (Establishment) Act 2015, Federal University of Ndufu-Alike (Establishment) Act 2015, Federal University of Dutse (Establishment) Act 2015 and so many others. Responding to the social needs of the people of Nigeria can be interpreted to include changing the prevalent pedagogy when it is no longer advancing learning. It could also be interpreted to provide for a strong imperative for ICT based tertiary learning in the face of this COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria. Thus, it can be said that our law adequately underpins a paradigm shift from the traditional method of learning to ICT based tertiary learning in response to changing social needs.

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What then can be done to advance the use of ICT based tertiary learning in Nigeria? The definition of the platform for delivering tertiary education is by the University Senate and/or Management. Thus, the time we are in, creates a strong impetus for the University Management and/or Senate to go back to the drawing board and redefine the platform for delivering tertiary education. The argument that it is not plausible in Nigeria cannot be upheld because some private tertiary institutions are already using ICT to continue tertiary education even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The argument that the current state of infrastructure in Nigeria cannot sustain ICT based tertiary education is also not tenable. The latter is because ICT based tertiary learning is one smart phone away. If you can use WhatsApp, then you can educate your student. Other platforms like ZOOM and Skype can also be used on smartphones. Thus, why we battle to conquer COVID-19 in Nigeria, we must also strive to continue to advance tertiary education by using ICT.

Ole, PhD and Anagu are of the faculty of law, Redeemer’s University (RUN) and write from Osun state.

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